While battling with cancer, Urfiya Mehraj, 28 started her online business of Tilla Zardozi embroidery work.
Hailing from Nawa Kadal area of old city in Srinagar, Urfiya's family has been into the work for past many generations.
"First it was my grandfather, who passed the skill to my father and from him it came to me."
To showcase her family legacy, Urfiya created an Instagram page namely “Rozgar Kul” in 2019. When her cousin, settled in the USA, came to Kashmir to meet her family, she discussed the idea of taking business online with him.
Urfiya wanted to introduce Tilla work to the international market, so she sought help from her cousin.
Though her cousin did not give her any false hopes, however, he encouraged her to take the first step in the form of a website creation.
"Soon after as I was about to take my first step, Article 370 was abrogated. With that everything came to a grinding halt," said Urfiya.
As things began to normalise, Urfiya, a mother of two, wanted to dedicate all her time to her business.
"I started collecting samples from different Tilla Soz (people who do the same embroidery work) from downtown so that I could expand business further."
However, soon after, a lockdown due to the pandemic was declared and everything again came to standstill.
Urfiya was in the last stage of building the website, when she noticed something unusual in her breast.
"When I discussed my health with my family they said it won't be anything serious. But I was apprehensive as it was a movable lump. Immediately we consulted a doctor who said it's nothing to worry about, it's just a Fibroadenoma.”
But she kept on insisting that it is not a usual thing so a biopsy was carried out on the lump. The results of the test confirmed that it was a grade 3 Carcinoma.
"My world came crashing down in front of me. I felt this was the end of my life. However, I wanted to live for the sake of my children."
With timely intervention, her chemo therapies were started immediately.
"I had to undergo eight rounds of therapies which was the most tormenting period of my life. After my second therapy I began to lose my hair in bunches. My eyelashes and eyebrows also began to shed hair. My body had no strength to cope."
However, when the third round finished, Urfiya felt the need to wave off her anxiety.
"Chemo therapies weren't only taking a toll on my health. but mind as well. I would feel stressed all the time. I wanted to put an end to all my negative thoughts. That's when I again started working on my page."
Urfiya began to upload pictures of tilla suits, jackets etc on her page. And soon some people began to follow her page.
"My first post was in June 2020, which was a hand tilla embroidered jacket. It was the work of my father and I got several inquiries related to it from a number of people."
Urfiya took a plunge and started officially selling her products online. Simultaneously she had to undergo a surgery to remove some axillary lymph nodes and was getting radio therapies done also.
Though Urfiya is in remission right now, she undergoes MRI and mammography after every six month.
"For the next three years I have to be very careful as cancer can relapse so I have to undergo scans regularly."
Today she is carefully taking care of herself and her page. Her followers are increasing by each day and so are her customers.
"I get orders from all over Kashmir. Recently I delivered orders to places like Pattan, Lolab, etc which means people from all over Kashmir are following me now," says Urifya in an exalted voice.
Besides offering ready-made designs, Urfiya also customises the designs etc according to her customer's taste.
She is now shipping her work all over the world and has received some orders from abroad also.
"We are expanding. Right now my father is helping me out in delivering hand made products. For machine work, I have employed two artisans. In Srinagar I am delivering the products myself and use an outsource service for other districts."
Urfiya has named her venture as ‘Rozgar Kul’ which means a source of employment as she wants to provide employment to youth.
"We never get the wages we deserve due to lack of avenues in Kashmir. I want to provide employment to youth so that they can get a source to earn in a rightful manner."
Right now, Urfiya is busy building her shop at Nowgam near her in-laws place.
"The place will be ready in the next two months where I'll exclusively showcase Kashmiri handmade products. I will be dealing with Aari, Tilla and Sozni. I want to present Kashmiri embroidery as a brand all over the world so that the world will recognise our talent."
Urfiya says the world talks about brand and branded clothes but we never value our own product.
"Celebrities are now wearing Kashmiri hand crafted wardrobe. I want to take it forward. I want to create value for our goods so that our art moves forward in the right direction."
Though Urfiya hasn't recovered fully yet and her body is not supporting her much, she is hopeful that one day she will achieve what she dreams of.